Snapshots of Safety: Riding Helmets as a Habit

Earlier this summer while preparing for the World Championships of TREC, which my teammates and I completed a few weeks ago in Segovia, Spain, I was flipping through a photo album of images from my previous experience participating in the event, 19

Earlier this summer while preparing for the World Championships of TREC, which my teammates and I completed a few weeks ago in Segovia, Spain, I was flipping through a photo album of images from my previous experience participating in the event, 19 years ago in France. Memories came flooding back as I flipped through the pages of training and competition pictures … until I stopped at particular photo, perplexed.

There, in the 35-mm print, I was navigating into a patch of sun along a narrow trail, map in hand, and wearing a mere ball cap on my head. Then, on another page, standing with my horse after the happy-mayhem mounted awards ceremony with no helmet. 

I was confused because as long as I can remember, I’ve always worn a riding helmet, without question, save a few silly photo-ops as a kid that I’m lucky I survived. Those training days in France were quite long, and there were plenty of precarious spots along the ground we covered. What was I thinking?

This time around during TREC training, I always wore my helmet. 

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

If I was thinking, the temperature was probably blazing hot, and a ball cap was probably a lot more comfortable than the ASTM-approved helmets of the late 90s. I likely told myself it would be fine.

A few years later, in my early 20s, I broke two vertebrae in a fall (I was wearing a helmet, which did its job). I don’t know if it was the classic experience of “becoming aware of my mortality” or if it’s the natural response to getting older, but I’ve been religious about wearing my riding helmet as an adult. There’s also the distinct awareness that I need my brain to be an editor.

This piece of safety equipment is just a way of life for me, as it is for many other riders. At this point, not wearing my helmet during a ride would feel just about as awkward as, say, going grocery shopping in the nude.  

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Just a few days ago I returned from my big trip for TREC (where everyone was wearing helmets this time around, and the awards ceremony was much calmer). In my hurry to get out to the barn to see my horse, I forgot to grab my helmet from my luggage.

My Thoroughbred gelding, Happy, is one of the most relaxed horses I know. Even so, I opted to take the extra 22 minutes and drive back to the house to retrieve my helmet. I could’ve borrowed one that was an imperfect fit, but I’m glad I made the drive … because wouldn’t you know, a tree branch (probably one with fangs and talons) leapt out from the side of the trail, where we were riding alone. My relaxed, sweet red horse spooked, spun, and darted–not far, but with enough momentum to nearly unseat me in my jetlagged stupor.

My take-home? Even the predictable horses have unpredictable moments. I’m glad I was wearing a fitting helmet, just in case.

Tomorrow is International Helmet Awareness Day. If you haven’t already taken steps to protect your gourd (see my fun little meme from a few years ago), and you’ve been thinking about getting a helmet, many retailers are offering a discount tomorrow, so it’ll a good day to hop on board.

When was a time you were glad you were wearing a helmet?

A helmet-safety-awareness meme we created a few years ago.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/

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